2023 Toyota Highlander vs.2023 Subaru Ascent: Strengths and Weaknesses Revealed

A new versus old battle gives us the 2023 Toyota Highlander vs. the 2023 Subaru Ascent. Although the Highlander popularized the three-row crossover SUV market, the Ascent isn’t new to this category, entering the market in 2019. For 2023, these three-row crossovers receive updates, giving us a great forum for a family-sized SUV battle.

Where does the 2023 Toyota Highlander best the 2023 Subaru Ascent?

A green 2023 Toyota Highlander headlight, one of Toyota's vehicles that has the curve-speed management system.
2023 Toyota Highlander | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

In every vehicle comparison, each model has something better than the other vehicle. Toyota brought the Highlander SUV to the market at the turn of the millennium. That doesn’t give it the edge over the Ascent. Here are some areas where the Toyota three-row crossover SUV is better than the Subaru model.

Fuel Economy

The standard powertrain of the 2023 Toyota Highlander offers 21 city/28 hwy mpg for FWD models and 22 city/29 hwy mpg for AWD versions. The 2023 Subaru Ascent has standard AWD, which returns 20 city/26 hwy mpg.

The standard powertrain for the Highlander is a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 265 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. This is more torque than the old 3.5-liter V6, which had 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque.

In addition to being more efficient than the Ascent, the Highlander is one of the few three-row crossover SUVs with a hybrid powertrain. This powertrain makes the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid one of the most efficient SUVs in its class, with 26 city/35 hwy mpg for FWD models and 35 city/35 hwy mpg for AWD versions.

Value

Give high marks for Toyota’s reputation for reliability, which brings impressively high resale prices. The 2023 Toyota Highlander is relatively affordable to drive and maintain. In a comparison by MotorTrend and IntelliChoice, the Highlander beats the Ascent for:

  • Resale value
  • Insurance costs
  • Fuel costs
  • Maintenance costs

Exterior Design

A blue 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is parked.
The 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Toyota

While the exterior design element might be subjective, the 2023 Toyota Highlander continues with a distinct, attractive, and instantly recognizable design. Some have described the 2023 Subaru Ascent as an overgrown Forester. Although Subaru updated the style of the Ascent for 2023, this three-row crossover SUV still carries similarities to the smaller Forester.

Where does the 2023 Subaru Ascent best the 2023 Toyota Highlander?

Blue 2023 Subaru Ascent
Blue 2023 Subaru Ascent | Subaru

Do you expect the Ascent to have some areas where it’s better than the Highlander? You should, although the Toyota is the class leader in many ways, the Subaru has a few cool tricks up its proverbial sleeve to be a little better in some areas.

Acceleration

Even though accelerating while driving a large family around might not be too important to you, the speed at which you can get up to highway driving speeds is important. The 2023 Subaru Ascent uses a CVT, which we often abhor, but it seems to do the trick in this SUV.

Comparing the time it takes for each SUV to reach 60 mph, we find the Ascent hits this mark in 6.9 seconds compared to the Highlander’s pokey 8.0 seconds. The hybrid model of the Highlander is even slower at 8.4 seconds to reach highway driving speeds.

Neither of these two three-row crossover SUVs will win any drag races, but it’s nice to know you can get up to highway speeds a little faster in the Ascent than in the Highlander.

Standard AWD

The 2023 Toyota Highlander offers AWD but it is an option. That means you’ve got to pay a little more to have worse fuel mileage and send power to all four wheels. The 2023 Subaru Ascent puts the “U” in SUV with standard AWD at every trim level.

Starting Price

The base model of the Subaru Ascent costs $35,000. Keep in mind this price delivers the benefits of standard AWD, giving you a complete SUV. The Toyota Highlander begins at $38,000 for an FWD model, with AWD adding $1,000 to this price.

Cargo Volume

Rear Cargo Area 2023 Subaru Ascent
Rear Cargo Area 2023 Subaru Ascent | Subaru

The Toyota SUV falls slightly short of the Subaru model in cargo volume behind the third-row seats. This is an important factor when you’ve got to tote more than five people around regularly. The 2023 Subaru Ascent offers 17.8 cubic feet, while the 2023 Toyota Highlander has only 16.0 cubes.

Strangely, this changes when the rearmost seats are folded. When this happens, the Highlander opens 48.4 cubic feet of volume compared to 47.5 cubic feet for the Ascent.

Fold down both rows of rear seats, and the Subaru three-row crossover SUV retakes the lead giving 86.5 cubic feet of cargo room compared to 84.3 cubic feet for the Toyota.

Which of these three-row crossover SUVs is the better choice?

2023 Subaru ascent in purple driving in a neighborhood
2023 Subaru Ascent | Subaru

When comparing lower trim levels of the 2023 Toyota Highlander and 2023 Subaru Ascent, the Subaru SUV takes the lead. The Ascent has standard AWD, better acceleration, more cargo volume, and a lower starting price. That said, when looking for the best option across these two SUVs, the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid brings the best fuel mileage and improved tech features to make it the best option.